Former Miss America swimsuit winner Nancy Amanda Redd has written a candid book for teen girls, "Body Drama: Real Girls, Real Bodies, Real Issues, Real Answers," that tackles some of the most common -- but often confusing and embarrassing -- issues girls face. Read an excerpt below.
Introduction: No Body's Perfect
You'd think a Miss America swimsuit winner would feel completely confident about her body, right? Think again! What? You feel like you're the first girl in the world to suffer from back acne, saggy breasts, or bad breath? Puh-leaze! I've been dealing with body drama almost since the day I was born. So have I, you might be thinking, but the problem is that I, like a lot of you, thought I was the only one who felt that her body was a natural disaster. For the longest time, I hated my body and all the stuff it did (and didn't) do. Although I was happy about how I looked in nice outfits and perfect makeup, underneath all the layers I truly thought I was a weird, stinky girl with a lot of body problems.
I don't know about you, but I've always been curious to know what other women's bodies really look like underneath their clothes. Not sexually, but in a "is my body as hideously deformed as I think it is?" kind of way. Lacking a sister (and not having the infamous "locker room experience" in high school), I had no way of knowing if the gross stuff that happened to me was normal. Was I the only one who grew hair in strange places? Found yucky stuff in my underwear? Had deep dents on my thighs? Did other women have clots during their period or poo problems or pimples on their backs? From what I saw in the media, it certainly didn't seem that they did. No one on TV or in magazines ever had pit stains or stretch marks! Unfortunately, aside from airbrushed pornography and too-thin supermodels, the unrealistic illustrations that all other body books use to show "normal" women were the only bodies I could sneak peeks at.
I couldn't find real photographs of actual women, and I couldn't find the help I needed on other embarrassing issues. Because legitimate guidance on how to deal with day-to-day worries like bad breath, embarrassing nipple hair, ashy skin, or split ends didn't exist, I assumed I was the only one who was doomed to suffer from them.
We girls are under tremendous pressure to conform to absurd physical ideals, but we have too few worthwhile tools to help us understand ourselves and care for our natural bodily leaks, creaks, and crevices. It's just not fair! Let's face it: Most health books are filled with bland information and boring, barely accurate drawings. I haven't a clue who the model was for the drawing of the naked woman in the body book I got for my thirteenth birthday, but she in no way resembled ME. When comparing and contrasting my body parts to the vaguely sketched ones in health books, I felt like the punch line of a cruel joke. And don't get me started on the penciled pictures detailing how to give myself a breast exam! The crudely drawn charcoal boob looked nothing like my own! How can we expect cartoons to teach us how to take care of ourselves and convince us that our bodies are normal and OK?
Our educational system spends millions of dollars creating detailed health programs, but those programs skip over the ABCs of basic body smarts. We've been so focused (and understandably so) on sexual education that we have completely ignored body education. By the end of eighth grade, I'd been through three mandatory, week-long rounds of sex ed, and I could easily spout off facts about how syphilis was a curable STI but HIV was not, and why the "pull-out" method isn't an effective way to avoid pregnancy. Still, for all my knowledge on how to keep bad things from happening to my body in the future, I had NO idea how to deal with the body issues I faced every day. Sure, it was nice to know that you can't get HIV from kissing, but fourteen-year-old me was too busy worrying about my dandruff to even consider kissing someone, let alone having sex! All I wanted was solutions to the simple, yet traumatic, issues I was dealing with daily. And I know now that I'm not the only one. C'mon . . . how can we respect and protect our bodies if we don't know what real bodies look like? If we can hardly utter the word vagina, much less peek at it without feeling dirty, how can we own and love it and ourselves?
Enter Body Drama, the book I wish I'd had as a teen and the book that all young women need today more than ever before. When I first planned this project, many people thought I was crazy. With wrinkled noses, they'd say, "Who wants to see pictures of belly rolls and floppy boobs?" or "Talking about this stuff is disgusting!" One friend even begged me to use a fake name, saying that my Harvard honors degree and my "outstanding reputation" would be down the toilet. After all, who wants to be affiliated with poo problems?
Actually, I do! We deserve to celebrate, not hide, our differences and uniqueness by seeing our real selves in print! Why should we be forced to ignore natural bodily functions or to feel ashamed of them? Young women shouldn't be left searching blindly for solutions to their body dramas -- especially considering that much of the information "out there" is inaccurate, perhaps even dangerous. From discharge to dry skin, from vaginal smells to STIs, Body Drama closes the current gap in women's health education by going beyond our periods and providing practical and entertaining information, photographs, and anecdotes that describe how real bodies look and how they function -- the good, the bad, as well as the ugly, the funky, and the admittedly gross.
As you'll see from the embarrassing personal experiences that I've shared in this book, I'm an expert on body dramas, but I'm no medical professional. To obtain the best information possible, I called on Dr. Angela Diaz, director of America's most prestigious medical clinic for teens at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center in New York City. She and her staff see over 10,000 teenagers a year, many of whom come to the clinic with the same body dramas that are discussed in this book. She helped me select the best information and advice to share, and brought her invaluable firsthand experience to the project as well.
I know from personal experience what issues keep you up at night, what topics you want to learn about, what information you need when dealing with dramas, and where you can go to get help when you need it. Guaranteed, after reading this, you'll know what real bodies in every shape, size, and ethnicity look like. You will also see how many variations of "normal" women exist, and you'll know how to take good care of your own special body. From a flat butt to flatulence to a third nipple to a triple-A-cup chest—these words describe body parts and issues we all deal with, but they don't make us who we are. How we choose to work with what we have does. This book is designed to help you realize -- and rejoice! -- that every body is different. No matter what size or shape you are, you deal with body drama, and you are not alone!
Nancy Redd, January 2008
Excerpted with permission of publisher Gotham. © 2008 by Nancy Amanda Redd.